Monday, January 22, 2007

Ancient Audio Free With Every Brain

In Same Old Song, but With a Different Meaning (© Copyright The Washington Post Company, Monday, January 22, 2007; Page A08), Washington Post Staff Writer Shankar Vedantam discusses the impact music has on brain behavior. The question isn’t if music stimulates brain behavior, but rather how.

"For neuroscientists," Sherpe writes, "the power of music poses a puzzle." He then reports how McGill scientist Robert Zatorre found that music "activated very ancient parts of the brain."

Meanwhile, two decades prior, in 1984, in The Secret Power of Music, David Tame wrote:

"…science is beginning to suspect that matter is all composed of one fundamental something, and that the frequencies or rhythms of this something determine the specific nature of each object and atom."

Sound, it seems is everything; and it certainly is if we are to believe the quantum notion that every bit of composed reality is a vibrating element of a wide electromagnetic spectrum, which we are only capable of seeing and hearing but a nano-sized slice of.

It almost begs the question, is sound particles or waves? Of course, we know the answer is waves. However, we might also suggest and imagine (if only as a thought exercise) that any transmission that communicates meaning is actually composed of micro sized particles of symbolic data

Carl Jung hypothesized that humans are born, not just with their physical body parts, but that our brains inherently contain what he called the collective consciousness. The collective consciousness, he suggested, was composed of "the residues of ancestral life… (whose) origins can only be explained from assuming them to be deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity."

So then why shouldn’t we who are aural centric also suppose then that some of these ancient deposits inlude archetypal sounds that endow us with the building blocks of music and the (metaphorically) sub atomic sonic particles that make all audible means of communication possible?

And might such sub atomic particles, the substance of archetypes, be made manifest as signs, and thus be subject to analysis and potential manipulation by capable semioticians, wielding a craft one might call 'Sonic Semiotics?

Independent of any prior use of the term, I arrive at this phrase simply because of what I perceived as limitations on the scope of analysis presented by traditional music semiology. That is to say, I arrive at this analysis as not just a composer or musicologist might, but from the position of someone involved with commercial audio production, one who often produces music as a means not simply to enhance dramatic action or otherwise entertain and promote a story experience, but as someone commissioned to use sound in order to fulfill a marketing objective (and deliver a message, if you will).

So, when I say 'Sonic Semiotics', I mean the analysis of any sound unit, not just musical sounds, in order to determine the inherent symbolic 'message' that a given sound might serve as a carrier for, and whether that message is culturally born while other transmissions affect us a certain way because of a bio musical code or archetype that is possibly part of our DNA.

For instance: Audible emissions such as a GIGGLE, the tonal properties identifiable with a cry for HELP (in any language), the spoken word 'MA' or 'MAMA'; and non human audio such as the rumble of thunder or the rustle of wind through long grass, even the revving engine of a Harley Davidson; or a wail –be it produced by a grief stricken mourner or the SIREN call of law enforcement– these things all absolutely possess inherent symbolic properties.

Although, I have also considered that perhaps the emission 'Ma' is simply the sound a baby makes as he pulls his lips away from his mother's bosom. And the proud mother thinks the kid has actually said something, and then repeats it often enough that it eventually becomes his name for her. Maybe? Anyway, moving along–

Certainly, the diversity of species is great, but is there any animal whose GROWL does not induce fear?

This is not to diminish the power of symbolic sounds that can be found in much music, but rather to suggest that my search for inherent semiotic properties of sound are found in much smaller units than musicologists generally identify. I think more of what is today called music semiology can more accurately be described as Sonic or 'Music Memetics', if we allow that a meme, in the broadest sense of the term, "is any thought or behavior that can be passed from one person to another by learning or imitation".

I think this definition lends itself to the consideration of motif sized musical expressions with greater exactitude than 'semiotics'. Whereas to my mind, semiotics more accurately describes expression via symbol, that which the motif serves as a memetic carrier for.

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